As she prepares for what she believes will be her final Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show with perky 12-year-old Hector, Loren Marino is reminded of the television commercial saying, “There’s no expiration date stamped on the bottom of your foot.”
The 42-year-old Toms River, New Jersey, owner-handler is a retired Navy veteran and is fighting to get every last ounce of energy out of her ailing body day to day. She was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndromes in 2000, which progressed to full-blown leukemia in 2010. Last September, terminal ovarian cancer was added to the mix.
She was offered the option of surgery following the cancer diagnosis but was told it would not cure but “possibly” slow down the spread of the disease.
“The surgery was risky with my various conditions,” she explains, “and the recovery time was lengthy and posed plenty of limitations on what I could do. I opted for quality of life for my time left.”
So returns for a third go-around with Hector, a Cesky Terrier, at the famed event, having collected an Award of Merit in 2014 and a coveted Best of Breed last year.
"It would sure be nice to bow out with another breed win,” she adds. If her health permits, she is hoping to make it to Crufts in March with Hector.
“That’s a long ways off,” Marino emphasizes. “Right now everything is day-to-day. I hope to make a trip to California in April with Hector and Daphne, my Westie, to a 'Xena [Warrior Princess]' retreat. It’s kinda silly, but Daphne is a TV addict and loves the 'Xena' TV show on Netflix, which she can manipulate on the tablet on her own.
“'Xena' is something that I watched with my husband [now deceased] while in the Navy and I enjoyed it then. So I thought it might be a fun to attend. It’s hard to believe but Daphne is less dog and more pre-teen girl.”
She also wants to take Hector to Disneyland and enjoy the rides, food, and festivities. “He’s earned and deserves it,” she says. “And if he’s a happy camper, I am, too.”
Marino is on 48-52 medications per day, but cannot take pain drugs or anything for migraines because they affect her blood. She does require high doses of Vitamin D, asthma, and allergy medications for new allergies she is contracting as her immune system gradually deteriorates.
“My tolerance for pain is high,” says. “I am a fighter and at the same time I want what’s best for my dogs every day. I refuse to just lie down and wait.”
Her parents, Michael and Gloria Marino of Toms River, have been “invaluable” assisting with dog sitting and other chores, she says, and will continue to play a bigger role in the near future. She co-owns Hector with Liana and Alexander Kapustiana, of Vancouver, British Columbia and will have three other Ceskys entered this year at Westminster.
Marino was raised with Westies and Scotties but was drawn to the laid-back nature of the Cesky a decade ago.
“In a way, it’s a good retirement Terrier,” she explains. “You have a lot of good Terrier qualities but in a more manageable package. They are also more comedic than some of their Terrier counterparts. I call them the ‘class clowns’ of the Terrier group.”
She campaigned Hector extensively last year, adding, “I had already known that my health was failing, and as a sort of ‘bucket list’ I formulated shows that would be most beneficial to promoting Hector, but would also be fun.”
In addition to Westminster they competed at Crufts, the World Dog Show in Milan, Italy, and numerous stops along the East Coast prior to her cancer diagnosis, which forced her to put the brakes on things until the National Dog Show in Philadelphia in November.
“My time with Hector has been beneficial physically and psychologically,” Marino says. “Keeping him in condition requires me to get up, get out, play ball, take walks, and make periodic trips in the car for his special burger treats.
“The two of us have checked off a lot of my bucket list. When I do feel ill, he is the first to make me smile. He knows when to stay by my side and just be there. And when to push me or make me laugh.”
Marino has been haunted by breed politics at times, but has pushed forward knowing her time is limited. “At this point I need to take care of myself and my dogs and keep my priorities straight.”
[Hero Photo: Phyllis Einsley Photography.]